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Thanks for checking out The Aix-Files, my

blog postings inspired by my time in and around

Aix-en-Provence and the Vaucluse. The spot includes travel tips,

discoveries of local food and wine, recipes,

cultural events, interviews and historical

tidbits about Southern France. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Village Life - Part 2

La Roque sur Pernes

There was a commotion up in the village square, so we decided to investigate. It turned out to be the funeral of a former mayor. We mingled with the people assembled: the mayor, Geneviève, our neighbours Edith and Didier. As we chatted with the neighbours, we found out there would be a meeting at the town hall that evening concerning some major construction on the house next door, starting tomorrow!

You can believe we were there with bells on. It was not easy to understand all of the dialogue in that boomy room, especially with those Provençal accents, but we maintained furrowed brows and expressions of grave concern throughout. We even asked some questions, Jim egged on by Didier.

So unfortunately, our peace and tranquility has been replaced by a lot of drilling and hammering. We’re hoping they will go on strike. They do take lunch breaks, however, so at the crack of noon, when everything falls silent, we race up to the terrace to enjoy a quiet déjeuner. However, their lunch breaks last only one hour. How un-French.

The goal is laudable. Every town is required to turn 20% of their buildings into public housing. La Roque sur Pernes overachieves in this area. The building, which has been sitting vacant for some time, is the former town hall (mairie). It will be turned into two apartments with a garden filling the empty space just next to our terrace.

Village flowers

Mont Ventoux, "our"  mountain

Training horses in the valley

-Movie night, advertised on big posters several weeks in advance.
-The village church bell that rings at precisely 7:05 in the morning and 12:05 “noon”.
-Running into someone on the street when you’re pressed for time. Twenty minutes later, after a long spell of good-bying and kissing, you’re on your way.
-“Vide grenier”, or emptying out the grainery – in other words, a garage sale.
-Our neighbour running out into the street in the morning in his housecoat and slippers, arms flailing, excited about something.
-Motorcycle-Man – apparently a poet, who frequents all of the same markets as us, at the same time as us. He always has a vacant gaze and a cigar in his mouth hidden by his long beard.
-On the first Sunday in April everyone pulls out their motorcycles or vespas.
-Cell phones don't work here because of the thick stone walls - a mixed blessing.
-Observing the horses galloping in the valley bellow, accompanied by a donkey, who is completely oblivious to the fact that he is not a horse.
-Opening the shutters of the kitchen window first thing in the morning – my favourite moment of the day.
-Everyone knows everyone here.  Among the people we have met in this area of the Vaucluse - not just in the village, but well beyond – I can tell you that the owner of our apartment in Aix used to live near here, so gave us Danielle’s number. Danielle taught Arnaud, the wine merchant who lives down the road. Arnaud is friends with Vincent, our winemaker friend. Vincent’s mentor, Louis Barruol of Chateau de Saint Cosme, was also a student of Danielle’s. My friend Anne knows our French teacher Brigitte. Brigitte and Palomo’s friend,Ignacio, comes to see Anne Marie up the hill in the village here, as she is one of the best masseuses around. Anne Marie certainly knows Monique, who has lived here for thirty years…

THE WORD “STEW” has never evoked a beautiful image in my head. However, daube de boeuf, blanquette de veau, fricassée de porcelet all bring to mind succulent, juicy preparations of meat simmered slowly until it melts in your mouth. I had been anticipating long, cold nights, a couple of days socked in with snow, icy roads, all the conditions for preparing such dishes. However, aside from a couple of frigid days in January, this never really materialized. So I became determined to devote myself to making at least one long-simmered meat dish each week through the month of March. This is is one of our favourites:

Laurent Brunet, our favourite butcher in Pernes-les-Fontaines

Start this dish two days ahead. Don’t worry, it doesn’t involve a lot of active work. For four people, you will need 800g. - 1k.of beef cheeks. Find the best butcher you can.  Ask him to cut the meat into large chunks so it doesn’t shrivel and dry up, about sixteen pieces all together. Choose a bowl or casserole dish to hold the ingredients tightly: the meat, two small onions, peeled and quartered; four cloves of garlic, smashed; 2 bay leaves; a few sprigs of thyme; a couple of sprigs of rosemary if you have them (or herbes de provençe), one long strip of orange zest, salt and pepper. Cover the ingredients with red wine, around two cups or more. The meat should be just submerged. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate overnight, or for as many hours as available.
The next day, put a small handful of dried cèpes (porcini mushrooms) in a cup of warm water. Then cook some chopped bacon (lardons) or pancetta. When the fat is rendered and the bacon starts to brown, pull it out and transfer to a large plate, leaving the fat in the pan. Meanwhile, chop a medium onion and add it to the fat. Cook until translucent, adding 2 cloves of garlic, chopped, towards the end. Remove them to the plate with the bacon. Pull the beef cheeks out of the marinade (reserving the marinade) and pat dry with paper towel. Brown them in the pan (as best you can, given they have been marinating), adding some oil if there is not enough. Wait for the meat to “lift“ from the pan before turning (in other words, don’t try to move it if it is sticking). Do this in batches, if necessary. Transfer the meat to the plate with the bacon. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of flour into the pan and stir with a wooden spoon, until it browns. Deglaze the pan with ¼ cup red wine vinegar, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits. Add the marinade. Return the meat and all the other ingredients to the pan, adding more salt and pepper. Pull the cèpes out of the water and rip them into big pieces, adding them to the pan. Add the soaking water, too, pouring carefully, leaving any sand or dirt behind (or, better, pre-strain it into a cup before adding, through a seive lined with thin tissue paper). Add enough water to just cover the meat.
Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a bare simmer and cover the pan tightly. If your lid is not tight, cover the pan securely with aluminum foil then the lid. My historical provençal cookbook even suggests making a dough of flour and water and sticking it along the edges of the pan to hermetically seal it.

Cook the daube for 2 ½ to 3 hours at very low heat, until the meat is very tender. Let it cool, then transfer the mixture still in the pan or moved to a casserole bowl that will fit in the fridge. Let it sit in the fridge overnight again (or as much time as you have). The fat will rise to the surface. Scrape some of the fat off (not all). Return the mixture to the stove, adding two large sliced carrots. Cook uncovered, until the sauce is reduced and gravy-like, but don’t reduce it too much, as you’ll want some sauce for the pasta.
This dish is often served with pasta (macaroni), or even small ravioli. Cook the pasta while the meat finishes warming. You can serve the pasta in a bowl on the side, moistening it with some sauce, garnishing with parsley and passing parmesan separately.

I also like serving the pasta in a gratin dish, drizzled with sauce, then topped with some grated gruyère or parmesan and breadcrumbs, passed under the broiler for a few minutes to brown. Bon appétit!

Borage flowers to garnish the dish
A la prochaine,


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